OK, I admit it. I've hoarded the Q7's keys since it first set foot (wheel?) in ec's garage. I've hissed at suggestions to share the Q7's remarkably smooth characteristics, adjustable suspension and commodious cabin. I don't care if you have a date with Angelina Jolie and she needs to be picked up in the middle of a swamp. Get your own Q7. This one is mine.
In truth, there's a very good reason for my selfishness, 150 of them actually.
Just a few miles up the road, the Bidrawn clan acquired a sizable chunk of ranchland, a 150-acre parcel dotted with live streams, established oaks and a good many hills and valleys. There's even an old silver mine, a 900-foot remnant from the precious metal frenzy of the late 1800s. Falcon Ranch (the kids named it) backs up against the San Bernardino National Forest and is home to black bears, deer, quail, mountain lions and about a million coyotes.
Sounds wild, huh? It is-and we intend to keep it that way, primarily by making access as difficult as possible.
That's where the Q7 comes in.
Simply leaving the pavement, prospective 'visitors' are faced with a nine-inch drop, something akin to a small cliff. That's all it took to high-side my brother's Toyota Avalon, leaving him teetering mid-belly pan. Although it is possible to launch a vehicle over the side, the ensuing speed would send you into the ravine below. We've towed more than a few cars out of there, drivers still inside, too afraid to leave their vehicle (spiders, snakes and such).
This is exactly where the Q7 shines. With its suspension in off-road mode, the Audi has some 9.5 inches of clearance and is capable of climbing 31-degree inclines. It also contains a 'hill-holder' feature that makes challenging downhills less scary. On acute downward angles, the Q7 maintains a constant speed under 12 mph and the system will allow a certain amount of slip to aid deceleration.
OK, so you've managed to make it this far. Now get ready for the mud. A stream crosses over a dirt road and the ensuing goo has claimed more than a few shoes from the unwary. In the winter, the stream is transformed into a small river. Although the Q7 has yet to experience that season, Audi claims it can drive through 21 inches of water. Although the Q7 and its Quattro driveline could probably walk across this sticky void, I prefer a running start. Despite the all-round goodness of the Q7's big Continental rubber, this kind of stuff is better approached with aggressive off-road tires, like the ones on our Jeep. I hit this stuff around 30 mph. By the time I've crossed, the car is just crawling. You can feel the Q7 transferring torque to all four wheels, grabbing traction wherever it can. I love Quattro. If it were a woman, I'd marry it.
As the road continues, pieces of pavement become visible, the remains of an old road long past its prime. The potholes are big enough to eat small cars and it's best to traverse this part with care. The grade becomes quite steep as you approach the top. I'm guessing its builders just got plain tired of doing the switchback thing. Crest the hill and the valley below is Falcon Ranch. You can get there too, provided your ride can clear the rocks and tree stumps, little punji stick-like things just dying to eat tires.
I've made the trip to Falcon Ranch so many times it no longer holds any surprises. Visitors new to the place are usually terrified as they sit in the Q7's luxurious, air-conditioned cabin while I point out cougar scat and bear spoor. In the backs of their minds, they probably wonder how screwed they'd be if the Q7 got stuck.
Fifteen years ago, I might have been similarly worried when Audi's product wasn't as strong. That was then, this is now. So far, the Q7 has the durability of an Abrams tank.
My one-and only-gripe with the Q7 is its mismatched engine. Audi's 4.2-liter V8 is a fine piece and does a great job in lighter cars. But the Q7 is far from light and I would gladly trade horsepower for torque.
It just so happens Audi has just the thing. I'm talking about TDI technology, specifically the 3.0-liter turbodiesel sold in Europe. Word has it Audi is in the final stages of approval for its diesel cars and the Q7 is slated for this option. Forget everything you think you know about diesel motors. The refinement and power of Audi TDI engines are so close to gas it's virtually impossible to tell them apart. And you won't be visiting the pump every few days.
For most competent SUVs, getting to the ranch isn't too difficult. Still, I get a certain thrill in seeing the Q7 parked next to Range Rovers, GMC Tahoes and ubiquitous Jeep CJ-7s, proudly festooned with fresh mud. That the Q7 can do this type of light off-road activity is a great bonus. On the street or highway, you'll be hard pressed to find a smoother, more comfortable and capable car as Audi's Q7.
At A Glance
Total miles: 11,200
+ Side Assist (blind spot radar) has spared us several mishaps *Panoramic roof is a blast
*Keyless ignition *Hidden LEDs highlight exterior levers and handles at night-Fuel economy (the horror) *Needs a more substantial front skid plate